Title: Guard Duty
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: January 1, 1999 Finished: July 2000
Disclaimer: "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron," its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission.
The interior of the First National Bank of MegaKat was lit dimly by a few overhead lights, their florescent tubes humming faintly. Abruptly, they flickered, feeling a stronger than usual electric pulse interrupting their nightly routine.
The security guard on duty blinked bloodshot eyes, wondering if the light flicker was genuine or merely a trick of his weary eyesight. The crackle of electricity brought him to full attention. Too late, he remembered the warnings he’d heard. Power surges. Every power surge was a warning sign.
It was his last thought before a light tap on the back slammed a powerful electric current through his body.
Hard Drive smiled in satisfaction at the limp, unconscious figure on the floor at his feet. With casual ease he ambled around the high counter that separated patrons from bank tellers and slouched into a chair before the nearest computer. He flipped a finger toward the machine’s power switch and waited as it hummed to life.
Chance smacked the side of Jake’s computer in frustration. Why wouldn’t the stupid Internet service let him get on-line so he could check his e-mail?He growled softly to himself. Computers.
And, he didn’t doubt that his friend Alan had written him back. They’d been arguing good-naturedly for days now.
As he waited for the dial-up program to log him in for the umpteenth time, he snorted softly to himself. Since when was he a computer nerd?
The answer to that question was easy enough. Since Jake had started e-mailing an Air Force pilot whose obnoxious ego and bull-headed defense of his opinions drove the slender orange kat to distraction and brought Chance to his friend’s and, eventually, his own defense. Leaning over Jake’s shoulder, he’d loudly barked just exactly what Jake should say back to the loud-mouthed so-and-so. At last tired of typing what had become someone else’s fight, Jake relinquished the keyboard, telling Chance, “You wanna fight ‘im, you type to ‘im. ”
And so began Chance’s induction into the fascinating, and irritating, world of computers. He rarely owned up to even touching the keyboard unless it was in his way, but, nonetheless, he enjoyed his written debacles with Alan.
And, right now, he’d like to continue the current one!
At last tired of the computer’s finickiest and resigned to checking his mail later, he stormed away from the terminal. In his foul temper, he failed to notice that the dial-up program was still dutifully calling his ISP only to consistently receive that irritating busy signal.
Hard Drive wavered uneasily, uncertain as to his options as the Enforcers belted out their megaphone-enhanced threats for the third time.
“Hard Drive! Come out immediately! Toss your suit out into the street first and then follow it. Slowly.”
The slender techno-thief drummed his fingers on the desk by the silent terminal. The power was off. The power loss had been his first warning sign. Hard Drive silently cursed his rash decision. He should have waited. He was barely a month out of MegaKat Maximum Security. They’d made preparations and his escape was still fresh enough in their minds that they hadn’t grown slack yet.
The tan kat’s yellow eyes roved the room wildly. If they caught him, MegaKat Maximum Security wasn’t his deepest fear. Being trapped anywhere was. It hadn’t even been a year ago that he’d double-crossed Dark Kat, or tried to anyway. He’d spent his last five months in prison after Dark Kat’s escape waiting. Waiting for a bomb in the cafeteria, a meal that left him gasping, slowly asphyxiating from some horrible poison; waiting in ever-deepening paranoia. No. No. NO! He wouldn’t be caught! Wouldn’t go back to prison or even an Enforcer holding cell where it would be more convenient for Dark Kat! Right in the city no less!
Hard Drive’s shaking hands steadied with his decision. There had to be a way out. His frantic gaze fell on a phone, tracing its line to the wall jack. No. Surely, they’d cut the phone lines too. There was no hope in that.
Still, he found his hand reaching for the phone and raising it to his ear. The dial tone’s buzz was the most beautiful music he’d ever heard.
Heedless of where it might lead without a pre-programmed destination, Hard Drive yanked the phone line from its jack and charged his suit. Every cell in his body destabilizing, transforming into raw energy, he leapt out into MegaKat City’s vast MKI network.
“Park rangers in the MegaKat Mountain Reserve found the remains of a private aircraft yesterday. Reports indicate that the wreckage may be dangerous and visitors to the Reserve are asked to avoid Tremblay’s Peak until further notice. In other news, it’s that time again! Next week begins the annual Manx Invitational Golf Tournament.”
Chance switched the radio off with a deft twist of his wrist before they were forced to hear the “fascinating” details of the golf tournament.
“Guess that jet that chased us a few nights ago must’ve been somethin’ special like you thought,” he muttered to Jake, submerging his upper half under the hood of the red truck on which he’d been working.
“Yeah,” Jake returned darkly from where he was working under a car. “And now, they’re covering it up. Wish I knew—” His voice broke off abruptly. “Chance?” Jake pushed himself out from under the station wagon he was working on. His sensitive ears were pricked and flicking curiously. “What’s that sound?”
Chance emerged from the engine of the truck and cocked his head toward the sound.
“Crud!” he snapped. “I left the computer trying to get on-line!”
“Then, how’s about going and telling it it can quit now so it will stop that sound?” Jake remarked mildly before reaching down to brace on the floor and push himself and his creeper back under the car.
Grumbling, Chance went to shut the computer off.
Hard Drive had lost himself in the most exhilarating rush. As always, travelling at what seemed the speed of light was heady, invigorating. But, this time... This time it went on and on. And on and on...
Back in his conscious mind, Hard Drive knew he couldn’t continue. If he didn’t find a point to exit the network, he’d lose himself in it. He’d stay there forever. Briefly, his mind played with the concept. Dark Kat would certainly never find him. Would never know what speeding blip of light, electricity, and information was Hard Drive. But then, neither would Hard Drive himself. Or if he did, he’d be powerless to remove himself from the stream, trapped for all eternity in the endless cycle of energy until his energy was exhausted as it was used bit by bit or the system was shut down.
But, that was just the problem with flinging himself randomly into the telephone system. Always before he “travelled,” Hard Drive carefully programmed his suit for the desired location. His current base, along with a few other safe spots, were always pre-programmed for quick getaways. Where he entered the power stream was inconsequential. Designating where to come out again, however, was not. Had he leapt into any outlet but a telephone jack, he would have had an out. Unfortunately for Hard Drive, he’d never planned for a dive into the phone system, not with this suit anyway. This was his backup, the spare he’d retrieved from safety after his jailbreak. The Enforcers had confiscated his old one. The one that had his full programming codes, including over a dozen power and phone line “safe spots. ”
Blindly, he began to probe for an exit. Any opening. There! An open channel! Hard Drive leapt for the opening. Then, he felt it, the pulse that triggered his suit to restore him to solid form. He was free!
Chance leapt away from the computer as a sharp sizzle erupted from its CPU. Sparks began to dance above the keyboard even as the monitor’s hum rose to a shrill wail.
“What in the—?!” Chance yelped, leaping away as the monitor exploded.
Seconds later, the CPU followed it. Chance watched in shock as a mass of blue flame shot from the remains of the computer. The electric fire coalesced, assuming a kat’s shape.
“Jake!” Chance screamed, recognizing the phenomenon too late. “Get a weapon!”
He turned and searched for some form of cover.
“Hold it right there, Punk,” a voice ordered behind him.
Chance froze, slowly turning his head to meet Hard Drive’s confident smirk.
“Chance, what—?!” Jake demanded as he raced into the room. He skidded to a stop when he saw Hard Drive.
“Well, well, two grease monkeys,” the techno crook purred, raising a hand to casually watch sparks hop between his pointer and thumb.
By the time the sun was a glow on the eastern horizon, Hard Drive had completely moved in.
“To borrow a line – what a dump,” he muttered, looking through one of the garage’s grime-smeared windows. He turned back toward Chance and Jake. “Still, your nice, secluded little hole here will work for me. ”
The two tomkats glared at him from their seats on the couch.
“You see, I need a place to hide out for a while. Not long. Just until I can get a safe way out of MegaKat City,” Hard Drive continued. “This place,” he spread his arms wide to include the garage and the yard, “this is the perfect hiding place. ”
Chance and Jake exchanged a quick, worried glance.
Hard Drive slouched into the room’s battered easy chair. The tan-furred kat sat for several minutes studying Chance and Jake. At last, he frowned and focused a glare on Chance. “You! Fatso! Get me some of that ham I saw in the ‘fridge!” Hard Drive barked imperiously.
Chance sat up quickly, baring his teeth in a fury. Jake jabbed his friend in the arm sharply with an elbow. Sullenly, Chance accepted the smaller kat’s warning and stalked to the kitchen under Hard Drive’s watchful eye.
Jake kept his eyes on Chance’s broad back even as his arm snaked around behind him to find the wrench he’d slid into his back pocket.
“Hands where I can see them,” Hard Drive purred, catching Jake’s movement from the corner of his eye.
Jake quickly scratched his lower back in an irritated gesture as though that had been his intention all along and then presented his hands, palms up, fingers spread. He grinned sheepishly at Hard Drive, making an effort to look every inch the stupid grease monkey the tan kat obviously took him for. As if one could be an idiot and even lay a hand on the sophisticated electronics that went into modern cars Jake snorted to himself.
Chance meanwhile had snatched the ham from its shelf and shut the refrigerator.
Hearing the door shut, Hard Drive called to him even as he stomped into the room. “Let me have that!” the suited kat growled, still eyeing Jake in some suspicion.
Chance raised the ham slightly.
‘I’ll “let you have it”!’ he thought to himself. ‘Fatso, huh?!’
Seeing Chance’s intent over Hard Drive’s head, Jake yelped, “Look out!”
Hard Drive swung toward Chance, fingertips blazing with electricity.
As he turned, Jake leapt from his seat, jerking the wrench from his pocket and slamming it onto the top of Hard Drive’s head even as a blast of electricity shot toward Chance.
Chance tossed the ham into the air and dove to one side, feeling a flash of heat along his side.
Seeing the airborne ham, Jake leapt over Hard Drive’s still form and after it. He felt the heavy plate in his hands an instant before he slammed into the floor.
“What was that for?!” Chance demanded as he got to his feet, only now noticing the awful smell of burnt cloth and fur that permeated the room. “I coulda put him out cold with the ham and not nearly gotten toasted!”
Winded, Jake slowly rose to his feet before replying. “Yeah, you’dve been all the way toasted. You really sure you coulda laid ‘im out with a ham?”
“Yes,” Chance grumbled, grudgingly seeing the possibility of a flaw in his plan as he examined the singed area of his shirt.
“Besides,” Jake continued. “Then, we wouldn’t have had anything to eat.”
Hard Drive was only just waking up when the Enforcers arrived to collect him. His eyes fluttered as they snapped the handcuffs on his bare wrists. With a sudden realization of what was happening, Hard Drive sat bolt upright, screaming.
“No! No, don’t take me back!” he shrieked. “He’ll kill me! He’ll kill me!”
Chance shook his head as the Enforcers pulled the lanky kat to his feet.
“What’s with that nut?” he murmured to Jake.
The orange-furred tomkat frowned for a moment in thought. Then, his eyes widened. “Dark Kat! He’s afraid of Dark Kat!”
“So, what else is new?” Chance responded with a slight smirk.
“No, back with the computer virus. When you were trapped in the TurboKat’s computer. He double-crossed Dark Kat. ”
“And, now, he thinks Dark Crud is gonna off ‘im.” Chance shook his head. “He’s probably right.”
The twosome watched as Hard Drive was pushed into an Enforcer cruiser, still screaming half-hysterically.
“Can’t keep out of trouble, can you two?”
The deep voice reminded them of the presence of the kat that they hadn’t met under their real names in years. Both turned to face Commander Feral.
“Hey, we’ve managed to behave ourselves for four years now, Commander,” Jake returned mildly.
Feral scowled a bit, but turned to go to his cruiser.
“Commander,” Chance called after him.
The dark-furred kat looked back over his shoulder as his hand reached for the driver’s side door.
“Keep a close eye on him. ”
Feral snorted, but remained silent as he got in the car and drove away.
Jake slouched into the garage’s chief living area and situated himself on the couch, enjoying the luxury of having it all to himself. From the office he could hear the sounds of Chance playing some video game or other on the computer. He pricked his ears. “Ascent: Space for Sale” from the sounds of it. He shook his head as he thumbed through the pages of sketches he’d made of his latest missile idea. It sounded like a distant interstellar war in there. Blocking out the sound, Jake studied his design sketches. He knew he should give up the couch and go down to the hangar and set up his designs properly on his drafting table, but he wasn’t willing to relinquish the cushioned luxury just yet. The orange-furred kat mused over the drawings for several minutes more. He squinted at one doodle that he’d scribbled on the back of a used envelope, trying to separate the missile image from the address.
Try as he might, he couldn’t displace the thought that had plagued him since that morning’s events. Jake laid the designs on the coffee table and thumped his feet up alongside them, deep in thought. At last, he rose to his feet and followed the incessant sounds of digitized war to Chance.
Jake stepped up behind his friend, who was crouched over the joystick, engrossed in the game.
The sound of his name fell on deaf ears.
“Chance,” Jake tried again louder. The tip of his tail twitched in agitation as he stared at his partner’s broad back. Then, it stilled as a grin stole across the slim tomkat’s face.
On his bare, silent pawpads, Jake crept closer to the larger kat. His amber eyes focused on the back of Chance’s neck, watching the interwoven muscles there tighten and loosen with his partner’s efforts. Then... The perfect moment! Chance drew his breath in sharply, his muscles went rigid, tense.
Jake pounced. He leapt forward, grabbing the big tabby around the neck lightly with both hands.
Chance squalled like a startled alleycat, lunging from his chair. Without thinking, he reached back to grab his attacker, attempting to fling him off. The agile figure, however slipped from his grasp and perched on his shoulders.
Realizing how he’d been tricked, Chance stilled, adjusting his balance to compensate for the extra weight and waiting, breathing heavily.
“Fun, huh?” a familiar voice cooed from the weight on his shoulders.
“Yeah, real fun!” So saying, Chance abruptly doubled over, flinging Jake over his head.
Thankfully for the computer, Chance’s wild gyrations from the initial attack had left him facing, not it, but the other side of the room.
Jake hit the floor rolling, standing quickly. Smarting from the fall, he still took the opportunity to smirk a bit as he turned to face Chance.
“Not very observant, are we?” he purred.
Chance snorted. “Did you want to talk to me or just torment me?” he demanded, balling his fists in mock anger. “You probably just ruined two hours of game time, you... you... little booger!”
Jake doubled over in laughter. This was a new one. But, he sobered quickly. “Actually, I did want to talk to you. About Hard Drive. ”
“What about ‘im?”
“He’s right, you know,” Jake stated simply folding his arms across his chest and fixing his partner with an earnest stare.
Chance sighed, meeting his friend’s gaze before responding. “And, now you’re worried about the punk?” he asked.
Jake nodded. “I think the SWAT Kats should keep an eye on him,” he returned.
“How?” Chance blurted. “Hover outside Enforcer Headquarters all day?”
“No, I have an idea. ”
Chance sighed, knowing when he was beaten, and turned to shut down the computer.
“This is nuts. He hates us, you know,” T-Bone grumbled to his slimmer partner as they threaded their way through the labyrinth of hallways that led to the Enforcer detention blocks, one story below ground.
“His fear of Dark Kat is stronger than his hate for us,” Razor returned with easy assurance. “He’ll accept our offer. ”
T-Bone chose to keep his further doubts to himself. Razor’s confidence was wearing away his best arguments anyway.
After a few more minutes of walking, they reached the detention block. A pair of guards stood on duty just outside the door that led into the block.
“Hmm... I think they’re awake and they look pretty alert. I thought they’d gotten slacker than that,” T-Bone whispered in his partner’s ears from behind.
“Feral may not be Mr. Personality, but he keeps this place in order,” Razor returned, only half his mind on the response. The white slits of his eyes in his mask narrowed as he thought for a moment. “This way,” he said at last, slipping past T-Bone and heading back the way they’d come.
Razor lead them a reasonable distance from the vigilant guards and stopped beneath a ventilation grating.
“Detention block ventilation is a closed circuit. No entries from anywhere else in the building but a special air filtration unit in the sub-basement,” T-Bone reminded, following Razor’s train of thought. He paused and added, “And, pretty much they say the only way in there is to crawl through the unit. Not something you wanna do while it’s on. Unless you just wanna end up like ground round.”
Razor crinkled his nose as he muttered, “That’s disgusting, T-Bone. ”
“No more than your horror movies,” the big tabby snapped back.
Razor grinned, reaching up to work at dislodging the grate. “Bothered by “Aliens”, were we?” he asked as he slipped a small screwdriver from a hidden pocket on his flight suit and began removing the grate’s screws.
“What tipped you off? When I ran for the litter box?” T-Bone returned, a growl in his voice as he moved to Razor’s side to support the grate while the smaller kat worked.
“Actually, I think it was when you went that neat shade of pea green,” the slim kat chortled, passing his partner the screwdriver and putting a hand to the grate.
“Hmph,” T-Bone snorted, attacking the upper screws. At the back of his mind, he began to wonder why the guards hadn’t heard their banter. Each of them had been listening for any signs of detection. Hearing none, they’d continued their conversation even though the blatant lack of words concerning their actions was proof enough that they didn’t need verbal communication to get the job done.
T-Bone grinned. It was a part of Enforcer training, communicating soundlessly through hand gestures or other silent signals, but he and Razor had it to an art. There were moments they almost seemed able to read each other’s minds. He paused on the thought and wondered what Razor was thinking right now.
“What? Will you stop glaring at me and give me a hand up in there?” Razor demanded.
Clearly, he wasn’t thinking what T-Bone was thinking.
T-Bone snapped from his musings, his frettings over the guard’s silence forgotten as he helped Razor into the ventilation shaft. Clambering up after his partner, he turned to more pressing curiosities.
“And, just how are we gonna get to Hard Drive’s cell from here? I just told ya’ that—,” he began.
“Watch,” was Razor’s only reply as T-Bone saw the flash of his partner’s helmet light illuminating the tunnel ahead.
T-Bone’s tail twitched in agitation as he awkwardly slid the grate he’d carried up with him under his body, shoving it into a rough facsimile of its proper position with his feet. Briefly, he thought it might fall to the floor, but it held. He let out a deep breath and, cutting on his helmet lamp, followed Razor, praying no one would notice that the opening to one ventilation shaft looked a bit suspicious.
The bevy of creeplings scurried quickly along long forgotten air shafts and sewer tunnels, working their way ever deeper beneath Enforcer Headquarters. Light was unnecessary. They had lived in caves by nature, before Dark Kat “employed” them. When met with an obstacle, the diminutive gremlins merely chewed or burrowed through it. Their orders were simple, but failure meant a most unpleasant fate.
Razor’s ears swivelled like twin radar receivers as he froze mid-crawl so fast that T-Bone bumped into him from behind.
“Do you hear something?” he asked. “Could you give me a more cliche line?” T-Bone responded.
Razor quickly lashed his partner across the face with his tail.
“Seriously,” he snapped.
“Seriously? No, all I hear is your breathing and mumbling stuff to yourself. Just for the record, you do know where you’re going, right?” T-Bone asked.
“Of course,” Razor returned confidently as he started crawling again, ears still twitching. Despite T-Bone’s response he still wasn’t at ease; something didn’t feel right.
Five minutes later, the sound reached his ears again. An undulating sort of murmur. Razor frowned. Where had he heard something like that before?It didn’t ring true as a sound that should be heard in a ventilation shaft. Not the sound of water gurgling in pipes or air moving. It was something else. More like... cackling. Like laughter. Razor froze in place, his head jerking up.
“Creeplings,” he mouthed, half-vocalizing the word.
“What?!” T-Bone roared behind him, only hearing part of the word but enough to catch onto Razor’s meaning.
“They’re here,” Razor whispered. “Somewhere in another type of shaft. They’re here after Hard Drive!”
“Great,” T-Bone growled. “How do we find ’em?”
“We start by making a door,” Razor returned, turning to face the wall to his right as best he could in the narrow shaft.
He raised his glovatrix quickly to point it at the wall, squeezing his fingers into the pad on the hand part that would activate the device’s buzzsaw attachment. The buzzsaw shot from its hiding place and locked into position. Razor speculatively tapped the blade along the wall, smiling as he was met with a hollow sound. Satisfied, he started the saw. It came to life with a thunder that echoed down the length of the tunnel.
“The subtle route, I see,” T-Bone commented wryly.
Razor simply grinned and thrust the roaring blade into the thin metal wall. Deftly, he cut a rough square out of the wall. Retracting the blade, he gave the square a shove. As planned, it fell inward. It was some seconds before it connected with something below. Moist, earthy-smelling air rushed into the ventilation shaft.
The two kats traded a glance before Razor experimentally worked a foot into the opening and started to feel for footing. Without warning, he squalled in pain and jerked backward into the ventilation shaft.
T-Bone’s cry of alarm was followed by the chattering war cry of a flock of creeplings as they spilled through the opening. In a frenzy, they quickly covered Razor, clawing and biting.
T-Bone started to lunge forward to aid his friend even as a second wave flew into his face, the first slashing at his tender nose.
The big kat growled and grabbed the offending beast with both hands to fling it off. Another quickly replaced it, clawing at his eyes. Frantically, T-Bone hit the button to lower the visor on his helmet, shielding his vulnerable eyes.
Razor, meanwhile, felt as though a thousand knives were slicing through his fur and into the skin beneath. He screamed in pain and fell over into the opposite wall, trying to roll and either crush or dislodge the attacking creeplings.
Razor realized the situation quickly even as he struggled to keep the pink demons out of his face. The quarters were too tight. The SWAT Kats couldn’t maneuver and the creeplings could.
“T-Bone!” he bellowed to his partner. “Brace yourself!”
With that, he slammed his glovatrix upward through the mass of creeplings, distracting them as he slipped his other hand to his helmet. Quickly, he adjusted his radio, searching, searching, then... he had it! The radio released a piercing squeal as Razor at last hit the perfect frequency.
With the sound, the creeplings shrieked and broke off their attack. Gritting their own teeth at the wail, T-Bone and Razor took every advantage of the creeplings’ distraction. Ten minutes later found them panting heavily, faces scratched and marred with red, painful welts, flight suits torn and tattered in several places. The two looked first at each other and then at the limp creeplings lying around them.
“Any get away?” T-Bone grunted, reaching a hand up to feel the deep gash running across his nose.
“Not that I saw,” Razor responded, trying to direct his helmet lamp to survey the damage to his suit and person. He winced, more at the incessant ringing in his ears than any of his other wounds.
“Well...” T-Bone drawled.
Razor looked up expectantly and, seeing the start of his partner’s triumphant grin forming, raised his hand to meet the larger kat’s in an awkward high-five. For some minutes, the two simply grinned at each other.
T-Bone broke the moment abruptly.
“You sure we wanna save Hard Drive’s scrawny hide?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Razor returned confidently, turning back to study the hole through which the creeplings had come. His eyes narrowed in curious thought. “Wonder if they know something we don’t?” he mumbled half to himself. Experimentally, he hung his foot over the edge again.
“Don’t get masochistic on me, buddy,” T-Bone commented, watching his friend with concern.
“They’re gone,” Razor shot back, unworried.
He probed the hole with his foot for a minute before finding footing. The orange-furred kat leaned his weight into the foot briefly to test. Satisfied, he looked up at T-Bone.
“I’m goin’ in to take a look. ”
“Roger that. ”
T-Bone watched as his partner clambered into the hole, his light dimming as he vanished into the gloom. The big kat worriedly scrambled to the opening to watch the fragile glow bob away into the distance. He frowned and waited, clenching and unclenching one huge fist. His ears twitched to the faint sounds of Razor’s movement somewhere in the damp cavern. Other noises reached him distantly.
His left ear flicked backward. Voices? It seemed he could vaguely hear echoing voices bouncing down the metal walls. Perhaps carried down by remote shafts from the building above?
T-Bone jumped as Razor’s head popped up in the opening beside him.
“There’s a tunnel that’ll take us straight to the cell block. Looks like something from the original construction. How Dark Kat knew about that, y’got me, but it’ll work perfectly. “Razor paused in his report to look into T- Bone’s wide green eyes. “What?” he asked in surprise.
“You just scared the living meanness out of me!”
“Fraidy kat. ”
“Shut up. “T-Bone glared at the smaller kat before maneuvering his large frame into the opening.
“Hey!” Razor’s voiced called from below.
“Now what?” T-Bone grumbled as he felt for footing in the emptiness beneath him.
“Before you get down here, grab one of those creeplings. ”
“Convincing Hard Drive. ”
T-Bone reached out to snag an unconscious, or worse, creepling by the foot and drag it after him, grumbling to himself all the way.
Hard Drive rolled over in the narrow bed to face the wall for the nth time. He stared at the blank gray surface for several minutes, his mind as bare as the wall. At length, he released a shuddering sigh and turned back to face the tiny cell that was his home for the next few days, weeks, however long it took them to get him back in prison or Dark Kat to end his excuse for a life.
The tan-furred tomkat moaned in mental agony as he rolled to study the wall again. He couldn’t decide which was worse – watching the barred doorway from which an attack could come or facing the wall and never knowing what killed him. He was almost beyond caring. More than anything, he just wanted to sleep, come what may.
He shuddered as a new nightmarish thought occurred.
“No,” he mouthed. “Dark Kat wouldn’t be merciful enough to let me die in my sleep!”
Trembling, he flopped over to eye the cell bars fearfully.
Hard Drive wasn’t sure if it had been minutes or hours since his decision to watch the bars when he first heard the sound. A scrabbling, scratching sound was emanating from the wall at his back.
Leaping from the bed in terror, he spun to face the wall. His ears swivelled on his head, seeking the sound’s source. At last, he settled on the upper part of the wall, toward the ceiling. Shuddering again, the lean tomkat searched for anything that could serve as a weapon. There was nothing, of course; the Enforcers weren't so stupid as to provide prisoners with weapons.
With no other options, Hard Drive assumed a tense stance, ready to fight with the only weapons he had left. Thank goodness a court had ruled it was too demeaning to have prisoners’ claws either trimmed or completely removed.
Without warning, the sounds shifted, moving up and travelling across the ceiling. Hard Drive followed the sound with his eyes and ears, at last letting his searching senses come to rest on the single ventilation opening above. He froze in place as the sound stopped by the opening. Then, the grate was forcefully slammed inward toward the cell.
Hard Drive jumped back, every hair on his tail raising. Still, he held his ground, waiting to fight for his life.
His eyes widened as first one and then a second, larger figure dropped into the cell, facing away from him. The first figure turned quickly, blasting his night-adjusted eyes with light.
“Hard Drive?” the figure whispered, its voice not at all the menacing growl the techno-crook had expected.
“Yes?” Hard Drive responded weakly, struggling to make out the face behind the flaming light. “What does Dark Kat have in store for me?” His stance and his words were defiant, but the tan kat couldn’t keep the slight quiver from his voice.
“I wouldn’t know. “The kat flicked his helmet lamp off. “He’d hardly send us.”
“What are you doing here?!” Hard Drive growled in shock and contempt as the clearing spots before his eyes revealed the two SWAT Kats.
“We’ve come to help you,” the kat before him, Razor, returned.
“And, why would I want your help?” Hard Drive snarled, starting to turn away as his surge of fear shifted to an easy alternative – anger.
“You see this, Hard Drive?”Razor waved the limp creepling he was carrying in the lanky tomkat’s face. Close as he was, he could see the loss of color through Hard Drive’s light fur as the blood drained from his face.
“Sure you don’t want our help?” the orange-furred SWAT Kat pressed, bringing the creepling’s face, its muzzle now bound with a thick cord lest it awaken, on level with Hard Drive’s eyes.
Something in Hard Drive’s throat moved and a hoarse squawk at last emerged.
“He scared enough yet?” T-Bone asked, at last speaking as he moved slightly out from behind his partner.
Hard Drive dropped his head to look down at the floor, breathing heavily, for several minutes. At last, he looked back at the two blue-suited figures.
“He wants to kill me!Dark Kat! I— I—!” Hard Drive panted desperately.
Razor cut him off. “And we want to help you. ”
“Why?!” Hard Drive demanded, glaring at the SWAT Kat suspiciously.
“We’re in the business of protecting kats, Hard Drive, even you,” Razor replied. He fumbled in his suit, at last producing a tiny object. “Here. “He reached toward Drive. “This is a communicator. You can call us on it and we’ll come. ”
“What in the—?!” the tan kat yelped, staring at the thin, tan disk lying in Razor’s outstretched hand.
“Works best if you slip it in your ear,” Razor explained. As Hard Drive took the tiny communicator from his hand, he clarified. “They’d catch you with anything bigger pretty quick. This shouldn’t even trip a metal detector. ”
“Rubber coating with agrecite-aluminum alloy wires?” Hard Drive murmured almost in awe as he examined the creation. Wonderingly, he fingered the wax paper that covered its sticky backing.
“Yes, it’s the only way the Enforcers won’t catch you with it,” Razor returned, unable to hide the grin slipping over his face at the techno-crook’s obvious admiration.
“And, I’m to just trust you to come and save me?” Hard Drive snapped abruptly, looking up at Razor quickly.
“It’s the best chance yer gonna get,” T-Bone snapped, crossing his arms over his chest and glowering at Hard Drive.
“And, remember, Dark Kat wants us even more than he does you. At the least, we’re a good distraction for him,” Razor added.
Hard Drive looked quickly between the communicator and the two waiting tomkats. At last, he nodded.
“Fine.” He pulled the wax paper from the back of the disk and slipped the device into his right ear, rubbing it so that it adhered smoothly to the inner skin of his ear, beneath the fur that lined it. Then, he nodded resignedly to the SWAT Kats and settled onto his cot, putting his head in his hands with a deep sigh.
Taking that as a signal to go, Razor nudged T-Bone. The big tabby nodded and they made their exit.
“I think we should check the guards,” Razor commented. “They’ve been way too quiet. And, after those creeplings, I’m starting to wonder if they’re alright.”
As they were clambering back through the shaft above Hard Drive’s cell, they heard the half-sob of relief that at last escaped his lips.
“Card, they’re only gonna give me a few minutes here. C’mon and pick up the phone!”
Hard Drive shot a quick glance over his shoulder at the guard standing nearby. The kat was leaning lazily in the doorframe, droopy eyes studying traffic in the hallway beyond. Hard Drive refocused on the phone, growling as he heard the phone on the other end ring for the third time. On the fifth ring at last he was greeted by an answering machine.
“Leave your name and number at the tone, and, if you sound gorgeous or profitable, I’ll call you back,” the voice on the other end chimed.
“Look, Card, I don’t have much time. You owe me big, and I need you to get me something. I think you can look me up. If you help me, I’ll—”Hard Drive swallowed hard before continuing. “I’ll let you in on that little secret of mine, okay? And, Card,” he paused before snarling, “Hurry!”
With that, Hard Drive roughly smacked the receiver into the cradle and turned to the waiting guard.
Two days managed to pass without incident. Hard Drive slept somewhat easier, Chance and Jake continued life as usual, and the Enforcers fretted over the incident in Hard Drive’s cell.
Feral scowled as he remembered Hard Drive’s explanation. Idly, he twiddled the pencil in his massive hand. He didn’t like it. Creeplings able to infiltrate Enforcer Headquarters that easily! He growled in frustration. Much as he hated to admit it, the SWAT Kats had bailed him out this time. Hard Drive was still among the living, as were the two detention block guards. Though Feral still couldn’t figure out what gas had knocked them out on their feet or how it could have gotten in. The lower levels were clear of any hint of it now.
The pencil was abruptly snapped in two as Feral clenched his fist fiercely. And, he still had to deal with Hard Drive!It was clear now that Dark Kat did indeed have plans for his old flunkie. With a deep-throated sigh that ventured toward a growl, the Enforcer Commander reached for the phone. It seemed Hard Drive was going to need a less obvious form of protection until he was sent to prison.
Hard Drive eyed up the Enforcer’s so-called “safehouse” warily. Frankly, he saw little safety in the thin-walled apartment complex that had clearly seen better days. Leave it to the Enforcers to house him in one of the city’s less pleasant sections. Not that it wasn’t just like several neighborhoods he’d holed up in over the years. Only now, he had no weapons to defend himself against the punks that roamed the streets should he manage to elude his armed guard, and he suspected every kat out there of being a potential spy for Dark Kat. Any one of them would happily turn him in for even a paltry sum with which Dark Kat could tempt them.
“Alright, you’ve had yer look. Now, sit down and watch TV, okay?” the Enforcer behind him announced curtly. Clearly, this was not a job he wanted.
His partner grunted some form of nonverbal agreement and motioned them both inside.
Hard Drive growled and slumped into a ragged easy chair by the television. Idly, he wondered why exactly some genius had felt the urge to shred the cushion.
The Enforcer who’d spoken in actual words walked past him, flipping the TV on as he went. His partner took up a wary position by the door, pulling a rickety wooden chair up to sit in. The vocal officer, a slightly heavyset kat, settled himself into the room’s remaining chair and looked tensely out the window, his ears flicking this way and that in a mimicry of a radar receiver.
Hard Drive looked between both Enforcers and smiled faintly at their distress. So, they weren’t as sure of themselves after all?He frowned then. But, if his guards were scared... Fingering the tiny communicator hidden in his ear, he resigned himself to his fate and tried to focus his attention on the television program at hand.
“Eat the ham for lunch. We still have tons,” Jake commented as Chance walked past him toward the fridge.
“You wanted to save that ham so bad you eat it,” the burly kat snapped in response.
“My mother sent us that ham. ”
“And, I enjoyed it. For the first week. Doncha think it’s probably getting a little rank by now?”
“Nonsense. “Jake rose from his spot on the couch to stomp into the kitchen past his friend and yank the refrigerator door open. “See?” He pointed to the foil-wrapped ham with the statement before reaching out to peel the foil back.
Chance looked slowly from the ham to Jake. “So, what does it mean when it’s all slimy like that?” he asked.
Jake wrinkled his nose. “Hmm... Maybe it is time for the ham to go,” he muttered.
The klaxon’s sudden shriek snapped both kats into action.
“Later,” Jake told the ham, slamming the refrigerator door and racing after Chance who had already bolted to the hatchway that lead to the hangar.
First to the intercom box, Chance smacked the round button to activate the intercom and silence the klaxon.
Callie Briggs’ familiar voice greeted him. “SWAT Kats. ”
“We’re here, Miss Briggs,” the big kat replied, chimed by his smaller partner as Jake joined him.
“There’s trouble downtown. Some form of giant, robotic... thing is destroying everything in sight!” Her tone was tired, same old MegaKat madness again.
“Roger, we’re on our way!” Chance declared, cutting off the transmission and bolting for his locker to change into his flight suit.
Jake was right behind him.
Hard Drive had just found something worth watching on TV when he heard it, that subtlest of sounds. The lanky criminal’s head jerked up, ears swivelling wildly. The television’s chatter was the only sound. Hard Drive’s gaze flew to the nearest of his guards. The heavy kat was looking out the window, his back to Hard Drive. Watching him, Hard Drive sensed the other’s tension. He started to speak, but the Enforcer’s bark cut him off.
“Mullins!” The shaggy feline by the door jerked from his light doze at the sound of his name. “Go have a look around outside,” his partner ordered. “I think something’s up. ”
The other Enforcer grunted and made his exit.
Hard Drive watched him go. “Can that guy even talk?” he demanded.
The vocal Enforcer shrugged, eyes still focused outside. “He can when he wants to,” he mumbled.
“You guys fill me with so much faith,” Hard Drive ground out, nervously feeling his hidden communicator.
“Holy kats!” T-Bone blurted when the metal creation came into sight, looming out of the all-too-familiar chaos of downtown. The big kat set the TurboKat on a wide course around the destruction so they would have an ample view of their opponent’s features.
Behind him, Razor chuckled before reassuming his serious face. “There’s nuthin’ holy about it, bud,” he assured his partner as his instruments fed him information on the bizarre contrivance. “Looks like what happens when you cross a dragon with a Macrobot,” the SWAT Kat weapons officer commented, glancing up at their new opponent.
T-Bone grunted and gave it a brief scrutiny. Built to be quadrupedal and with a vaguely kat-like head, the creation did resemble a Macrobot. But, it had a set of massive metal wings and a long reptilian tail. As he watched, its tail lashed out and scored the side of a luckless office building.
“It’s a MacroDragon,” he informed Razor, assuming an authoritative air.
“Nah.” His partner sniffed at his ignorance. “It’s a Dragonbot.”
“That’s a stupid name. MacroDragon is cooler. ”
“And, you’d know?”
“Of course. I read more comics than you do. ”
“Only cuz you won’t let me near your collection. ”
Suddenly, the TurboKat’s radio crackled to life. T-Bone jerked back in surprise as a creepling’s face filled the viewscreen. The pink imp chittered in its own “language” before sticking its tongue out and onto the camera lens.
“Ew!” Razor mumbled.
“Gag me. I think I can see what it had for lunch,” T-Bone rumbled.
“What I wanna see is where Dark Crud is,” Razor returned, squinting into the dark recesses beyond the creepling’s grotesque face. “Cuz where there’s creeplings...” He didn’t need to finish the sentence; T-Bone had already thought of it.
“Hey, little geek,” T-Bone barked at the sneering creepling, “where’s your boss?”
The little beast’s only response was to regale them with another round of mindless chatter-giggling.
“What’d he say?” T-Bone asked.
“He said, ‘I am Iniego Montoya – you killed my brother. Prepare to die’,” Razor returned.
T-Bone chuckled at his partner’s joke and cut off the radio. “I guess intelligent conversation is out,” he rumbled. “Let’s take ’em out and maybe, if we play rough enough with his new toy, Big Purple himself’ll come on out. ”
“Roger that,” Razor returned. Then, he paused. “But, maybe that’s the plan...”
“Huh?” T-Bone sent him a surprised look via the cockpit mirror.
“Think about it,” Razor mused. “He’s been after Hard Drive for at least a week. Why not now?”
“But, how could Dark Kat hope to find Hard Drive like this?”
“He doesn’t. Not like this. This distracts us and Feral. ”
T-Bone smacked himself in the head with one hand, snarling, “Blast that Dark Kat!”The big pilot slammed a fist angrily into the side of the cockpit.
Calming his partner, Razor grinned a mimic of T-Bone’s cocky smile into the mirror. “He hasn’t one-upped us yet. Think you can handle a buncha creeplings and a giant robo-terror?”
“Think you can land in rush hour traffic and not kill yerself?” the big kat snapped back, smiling as he caught onto the plan.
“Think you can learn how to drive on roads period?”
“That was low.”
“It was true.”
“Get outta my jet.”
Razor ended the mock battle with a pronounced raspberry, the “thbbbing” sound audible even over the roar of the jet’s engines.
After a slightly surprised pause, T-Bone found words to respond. “That was mature. ”
“And, effective.” Razor smirked as he punched in the code for the Cyclotron launch sequence, riding along as his seat slid backward. Once the seat was locked in its rear position, he had the space to move and deftly inserted himself into the tiny opening just beneath his console. With practiced speed, the slim SWAT Kat crawled into the Cyclotron bay located beneath the cockpit. Situating his lean body on the vehicle, he activated his helmet radio and made contact with T-Bone.
Hearing the crackle of the open channel, T-Bone gave Razor the information he needed.
“I’m bringing her around just beyond the affected area. Shouldn’t be too much traffic from the fleeing bystanders.” He paused, beginning the TurboKat’s descent. “In range!” he barked suddenly as the street flew to meet the jet.
“Launching Cyclotron... now!” Razor screamed.
He barely heard T-Bone’s, “Roger!” as his partner entered the final command and the launch sequence initiated. The cover of the Cyclotron slid forward over the orange-furred kat’s head, locking in place just seconds before the vehicle was sent hurtling from the jet. As soon as he was in freefall, Razor ignited the Cyclotron’s single jet engine. Triggered, the curious motorcycle unfolded, engine firing.
Razor and the roaring Cyclotron hit the pavement at eighty miles an hour. The slim SWAT Kat grit his teeth at the familiar jolt before the Cyclotron dug its wheels in and sped down the street. A car loomed not ten feet from the landing point. Skillfully, Razor sent the Cyclotron around it with a whole half second to spare.
“Let’s pick up the pace, eh?” he murmured as his initial momentum from the TurboKat wore off and his speed plummeted. He hit the throttle and sent the motorcycle into the heart of traffic, weaving easily around vehicles.
“Now, talk to me,” the SWAT Kat directed the scanner attached to the onboard navigations array, only slightly scaled down from that of the TurboKat itself. Faithfully, it found the signal Hard Drive’s communicator was broadcasting and gave Razor a visual display. “Thank you,” the SWAT Kat returned, angling his course between two tractor trailers. And, T-Bone thought he was the only one living on the edge.
When the shaggy Mullins failed to return or respond to repeated pagings on his radio, Hard Drive felt the knots into which his stomach was tightening lurch into a vise. Dark Kat had found him!Unsteadily, he rose from his seat.
The barrel of the second Enforcer’s blaster brought him up short. “Stay put,” the Enforcer barked, his nervousness plainer than ever now. “He’s prolly just takin’ a leak. ”
Hard Drive had almost growled an angry retort when a pronounced ‘thump’ from just outside the door sent both his and the Enforcer’s eyes flying to the shabby false wood.
“Mullins?!” the Enforcer queried, voice wobbling as he brought his blaster to bear on the door.
Hard Drive saw the chance and bolted for the window. Better to be shot in the back running away than sit still and wait for death.
The Enforcer saw the movement in his peripheral vision.
“Freeze!” He spun to level the blaster on Hard Drive even as the door to the dingy room was ripped from its hinges. The Enforcer whirled, wide-eyed, to face a force of the pseudo-ninjas Dark Kat employed on occasion. For missions like this where the creeplings didn’t quite have the finesse required.
Hard Drive took one terrified glance over his shoulder and, with the strength born of fear, grabbed the window and forced it open. Unaccustomed to use, and likely never once opened since it was installed, the window sash cracked angrily. Hard Drive was oblivious. He only bothered to quickly gauge the drop to the lower building that was built snugly against the apartment complex. Then, he flung himself into open air, the sizzling report of the Enforcer’s blaster ringing in his ears as the heavyset kat attempted the impossible.
“My Momma told me to pick the very best one!”
T-Bone looked down at the auxiliary weapons panel to find his finger hovering over the selection menu, which was flashing ‘Scrambler.’
“Oooo... Scrambler missile. Those are always cool,” he muttered with a smile, hitting ‘Select.’
“SWAT Kats!” Feral’s booming voice reverberating from the radio made the big tabby pause. “Back off! The Enforcers will—”
“Make a mess. I got ‘im, Feral,” T-Bone responded.
“I’m ordering you to—!” Feral began anew, angered more than irritated now.
“Feral, listen!” T-Bone snapped. He’d made his peace with the Commander in his own mind; he didn’t wish to begin the war anew. So, he tried reason for once. “That thing has shields. I can bring them down with a single missile. Last I checked, nothing in your arsenal could do that.” He let the statement hang.
When it came, Feral’s voice was restrained. “Very well. Use your missile, but then let my men in. ”
“Can do,” T-Bone responded. Then, he was focused solely on Dark Kat’s creation. “Let’s rock and roll!” he screamed into the radio. The creeplings might not be the brightest opponents, but he’d give them his usual banter anyway.
Locking the missile on the relatively stationary target, T-Bone angled the TurboKat for the metal monstrosity.
Hard Drive pelted across the second rooftop, eyes wildly searching for a stairway access or a fire escape. Now, he could hear his pursuers’ feet behind him. Swift and confident. The likes of him couldn’t outrun them for long. And, there was nothing on the roof, just squat air conditioning units. Hard Drive raced for the roof’s edge where it overlooked an alleyway. Surely there was a fire escape there. He skidded to a stop against the low barrier by the edge and looked down. There was a fire escape. But, it was some feet below him, on level with the fire escape door on the floor below the roof.
The lanky criminal stared down at the twisted metal structure. It was rust red and looked like it could pull free of the old building any minute. But, he feared Dark Kat’s men more. And, they were nearly upon him.
As Hard Drive threw himself over the edge and into space, he narrowly missed the hurtling ball of blue and orange as another kat vaulted just past him in the opposite direction. He hit the landing of the fire escape hard on all fours, fingers curling around its metal rungs. Panting heavily, he jerked his head up to find Dark Kat’s ninjas. To his surprise, they weren’t hot on his heels as expected.
Razor landed just in front of the ninjas as he came out of his leap from the fire escape.
“Hey, guys,” he greeted, grabbing the nearest ninja by the front of his gray jumpsuit and flipping him into the low wall at the roof’s edge. The ninja’s suit hardly from his hands, he spun, glovatrix raised, to face two others. Launching two mini-spider missiles to capture those, he looked for more. The ninjas didn’t disappoint him.
At least thirty were spilling through the window of the apartment Hard Drive had abandoned. Quickly, Razor looked down on the fire escape for Hard Drive. The techno criminal was slowly making his way downward. Well, good. He wouldn’t have to be carried.
That thought in mind, the slim SWAT Kat leapt down onto the fire escape. As he hit, the entire structure shuddered.
“Oops,” Razor muttered.
As the metal beneath him bucked, Hard Drive looked up fearfully. Seeing the SWAT Kat, his eyes narrowed.
“Brilliant rescue plan!” he screamed. His voice was nearly drowned in the sudden shrill of metal ripping through brick. Hard Drive shot terrified eyes to the bolts that secured the metal staircase. At least two above him were pulling free.
Razor was already taking stock of the situation.
“Hang on!” he called. With that, he aimed his glovatrix at the opposite, taller building. As his fingers met the keypad in the electronic gauntlet’s center, a grappling hook flew from its compartment on top of the glovatrix to embed itself in the other wall. Yelling, “Banzai!” Razor scrambled on top of the fire escape railing and let himself swing out into open space.
Hard Drive watched as the orange-furred kat nearly hit the far building, saving himself only at the last minute by rappelling off the smooth brick with his bare feet.
“Is this your idea of helping me?!” he screamed at Razor as yet another bolt freed itself and the fire escape sagged all the more.
“It’s my idea of killing two birds with one stone,” Razor responded, enigmatically. He gave Hard Drive a sly wink.
“You let me die and what?” Hard Drive bellowed. Sound from above sent his eyes to the top of the fire escape where the ninjas were leaping down after him. “Please! Help me!” Hard Drive shouted to Razor.
Razor just winked again.
Hard Drive snarled in his general direction and tried to scamper downward with the metal beneath his feet bouncing wildly. Then, with a final, ear-piercing shriek, the old fire escape at last ripped free of the building and toppled for the alleyway below.
The ninjas that could leapt for the roof they’d just left. The others leapt for the ground. Hard Drive just shrieked... until someone grabbed him by the front of the shirt and pulled him from the falling structure. When he opened his eyes, the pavement many stories below was flying past his vision.
“You should brace yourself here,” a calm voice advised.
The lanky technocrook barely had time to bring his feet up and bounce off the far wall as he and Razor swung back into it. Razor’s attention was already back on the ninjas, who were, for the moment, scattered. He looked at Hard Drive again as the kat in his arms spoke at last.
“I’ve decided. You SWAT Kats are just sadists,” the tan-furred kat muttered.
“Nah. We’re just... unorthodox,” Razor returned as he let his cable begin lowering them to the ground. “Now, help me here. You’re not that light and those ninjas are gonna be on our backs again in a few if we don’t move. ”
The scrambler missile had worked brilliantly. The “MacroDragon’s” weak shields were completely nullified. Unfortunately, its swinging “wings,” which seemed useless for flight, and its tail had nullified most of the Enforcer choppers in like fashion. They simply didn’t have the maneuverability or the speed.
T-Bone wasn’t worried though. Most of the choppers had only taken glancing blows and limped to safe landings. The most audacious of them all, Feral, had taken a much worse hit and been sent spinning into the trees of the park. But, his angry grumblings snarling over the Enforcer ban assured T-Bone that he was fine.
The SWAT Kat wasn’t worried about his own chances either. The TurboKat could easily evade the robotic menace and had the firepower to take it down. It was merely a matter of destroying it without taking downtown along for the ride.
“Now, where’s Razor when I need him?” T-Bone commented. “I mean, he’s the one with the really creative plans. I could take it out, but this calls for more... finesse than that.” He let one hand guide the jet and slipped his left under his chin to adopt an appropriate thinking manner. “Let’s see what we got at hand.” He reached out to punch up the dimensional radar display. “Building, building, building,” he listed what he saw. “Building, buildi—Wait!” His finger slapped into the screen. “Isn’t that the building they’re imploding?!”
Naturally, Razor wasn’t there to answer him. No matter; he’d answer it himself.
“It’s gotta be.” He looked back at the HUD. The big kat was just in time to catch one of the MacroDragon’s wings scything through the air towards him. It had moved closer while he was distracted; perhaps it wasn’t as clumsy as it had seemed.
“Ahhh!” The big kat spun the jet to the left, ducking under the hurtling metal wing. “Crud, that was clo—!” He broke off as the thing’s tail whipped into view. “CRUD!”
The TurboKat plunged under the tail, coming within ten feet of street level. Eager to regain his altitude and not be trapped among the buildings with the metal beast, T-Bone pulled the stick close to his body for a tight ascent. And, heard the angry twang of power and telephone lines snapping in his wake.
“Glad Feral’s already down so he didn’t see that,” T-Bone muttered to himself as he regained his former surveillance altitude. Then, he looked to see the MacroDragon rampaging his way. Clearly, he’d angered someone in there. Perfect. “You wanna piece a’ me?!” he screamed into the radio, switching to the VTOL engines and cutting the thrusters. This would play right into his hands.
Razor lowered himself and Hard Drive to street level and quickly disengaged his grappling hook from the glovatrix before grabbing the lanky kat and pulling him from the alley. Dark Kat’s ninjas were already after them. They’d recovered quickly enough.
“I hope you have another brilliant plan,” Hard Drive hissed as Razor shoved him into the lead, covering his back. The tan-furred tomkat didn’t hear a response from the SWAT Kat as he skidded out of the alley and nearly fell over the waiting Cyclotron.
“Get on,” Razor snapped, hurrying around and leaping to his seat.
Hard Drive scrambled on behind him, and Razor fired the single engine. The Cyclotron roared, blasting two of the ninjas in its backwash. Singed, they tumbled backward with strangled yells. Razor rammed the throttle to its limit and, tires squealing, the Cyclotron peeled out down the street. Hard Drive screamed as a gray sedan suddenly appeared just inches beyond the Cyclotron’s covered front tire. Razor skillfully avoided the vehicle and moved them into the center of traffic, claiming the turn lane as his own.
“Relax,” he called back to Hard Drive. “This is easy. ”
“So easy I could barf on your flight suit,” Hard Drive muttered, looking ill.
Razor made no reply, instead noting the sudden appearance of a squad of black motorcycle-like vehicles closing from behind in his side mirror. As he watched, a burst of red ricocheted off the mirror. The orange-furred kat jerked away from the crimson flash, focusing on his driving.
“Crud!” he hissed to himself. Innocent bystanders were going to get hurt if they kept firing in traffic like that. Which meant he needed a plan. “T- Bone!” he screamed, tapping his helmet radio.
“Yeah?” The voice on the other end seemed distracted.
“I need a pick-up!” Razor informed.
“Uhm... Can it wait a sec?”
“Til this blasted thing’s off my tail!”
“Oh. I’ll... uh.. improvise then. Razor, out!”
“We’re toast, aren’t we?” Hard Drive asked suddenly. Apparently, he’d been listening in to what little he could hear.
“Nah. We just need a new course of action,” Razor responded, angling the Cyclotron out of the turn lane, looking for an off-ramp.
“If you don’t stop being so—!” Hard Drive started. He broke off and clutched the sides of his seat as tightly as he could when he realized that they were driving straight between the lanes of traffic.
Now, T-Bone’s mind had even more weighing on it. Razor needed backup, and he couldn’t provide it. Well, couldn’t until he dealt with the metal beast before him. A metal beast the slashing steel claws of which were currently just inches from the TurboKat. Granted, that was just part of the plan.
T-Bone slid the TurboKat back as the claws came too close yet again. Maneuvering when flying purely on VTOL wasn’t his forte. It wasn’t that the jet wasn’t maneuverable; Razor had designed the TurboKat to be incredibly agile in “hover mode. “It simply wasn’t fast. He couldn’t dart and dodge at his usual speeds. But, in this case, he couldn’t risk losing the MacroDragon’s attention. Or rather the attention of the creeplings within.
“C’mon, ya’ pink demons!” he bellowed into the radio. “Losin’ yer edge or what?”
The building he’d noted earlier was only a few hundred feet away and a quick glance had already confirmed that if it wasn’t the building slated for imploding, it should be. It was clearly historic – aging gray stone covered its face – not to mention crumbling. And, abandoned. Good enough.
Inch by painfully slow inch, T-Bone lured the MacroDragon toward the building. Then, a stone facade was at his back; any closer and he’d be trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Quickly, the big pilot pushed the VTOL engines to their limits and sent the jet into the fastest ascent it could manage. The MacroDragon’s pilots perceived his intentions immediately, but T-Bone had already anticipated the slashing metal paw. He slammed the throttle control forward, opening the afterburners to full before even cutting the VTOL. It was hardly by the book, but it was effective. Forward thrust won out easily, and the jet rocketed over the metal beast. The savage claws sliced harmlessly through the churning air of the TurboKat’s jetwash before embedding themselves in the crumbling building beyond. And, there they stuck, wedged deep in heavy layers of cement, steel, and stone.
“Gotcha,” T-Bone purred as he banked gently and swung around to grin over his imprisoned prey.
Within the MacroDragon, creeplings scrambled to free their wonderful toy. Power was diverted from less important systems. Less important for the moment; the lack of power to subsystems had stilled the wings and tail and left the chittering pilots just shy of running blind as guidance and visual systems powered down. The creeplings’ sole focus was the pinioned appendage. At least, until a single proximity alarm began venting its ear-splitting wail.
“Good-bye!” T-Bone crowed. Then, smirking, he half-sang, somewhat off-key, “So long, farewell, don’t hope to meet again!”
His first missile, a particularly potent variety of concussion missile that Razor had lovingly dubbed a “Baby Boomer,” hit the MacroDragon broadside, exploding against its titanium hull. The second, another Baby Boomer, impacted instants later.
The SWAT Kat watched with a satisfied smile as secondary explosions, created by the MacroDragon’s overloaded electrical systems and fuel tanks, ripped through the metal beast. Shuddering, the MacroDragon tumbled into the old facade in a cloud of shattered rock and cement that covered its final, fiery death throes.
As T-Bone watched, the spectacle, a series of purposeful blips on the dimensional radar drew his attention, informing him that the cavalry was arriving.
“Just in time for cleanup,” T-Bone murmured, his attention shifting to a lone, erratically darting blip that could only be the Cyclotron.
“They’re gaining!” Hard Drive screamed.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Razor returned. He’d deliberately cut the throttle to ensure that their pursuers would stay close. Cost himself and Hard Drive as it may, he had to keep as few bystanders between them as possible. The slim SWAT Kat tensed, amber eyes narrowed in concentration as he searched his options. The motorcycle-riding ninjas were closing in, and he could hardly say he had a plan. Nothing concrete beyond leading them out of the city. Easy enough. Just below the raised freeway they were shooting across were the freight yards, the boundary of MegaKat City.
Half in thought as he was, the attack from the side took him unaware. Something slammed heavily into the right side of the Cyclotron with the solid crunch of metal meeting metal. Then, they were skidding into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer before Razor had time to react to the initial impact. His only thought was to keep the off-balance Cyclotron righted.
Hard Drive’s eyes grew huge as the faceless mask of the ninja flashed by in a blur as the other kat’s motorcycle connected with the Cyclotron’s front before jerking away. Then, Razor was shouting his name. Blindly obeying, the tan- furred kat grabbed the SWAT Kat.
There was no time to think, hardly time to move. Time only to react. Razor threw his weight, and Hard Drive’s with him, hard back to the right. Then, the concrete barrier running along the overpass was alongside them.
“Hold on!” Razor shouted, screaming over the sudden blare of the truck’s horn.
Hard Drive’s only response was to grip his harness tighter.
Seconds later, they were side by side with the still-blaring truck, sandwiched between it and a wall of concrete. Mind reeling, Razor winced as one of the Cyclotron’s rear horizontal fins met the concrete wall in a shower of sparks.
‘I need a plan and I need it now.’
Razor cut the throttle and dropped back, trying to get away from the truck. He found a second eighteen-wheeler tailing the first. Then, a chunk of black... something was hurtling at him. The slim SWAT Kat’s eyes widened.
“Duck!” he screamed to Hard Drive, hunching low to place himself below the Cyclotron’s curving front shield.
As the lump of black thudded into the shield and tumbled off, shooting away behind them, he realized that it was, or rather had been, one of the truck’s wheels. Harmless enough, comparatively speaking. Razor breathed a sigh of relief, looking up and out at the road again.
He drew his breath in quickly. Scant feet ahead, a temporary concrete barrier swerved into the road sharply, cutting off the shoulder in which he was travelling. When the truck reached it, there would be no room for the two of them. And, reaching it was only a heartbeat away.
The captain of the pursuing ninjas cursed as two eighteen-wheelers barred his view. Surely, the target and the SWAT Kat were dead. Still... He slipped his motorcycle just in front of a mini-van, angling closer to the far lane where his prey was surely dying, crushed under several tons of truck. Horns bleated angrily at him and his squad, but they were of no consequence. He needed confirmation. Dark Kat was not fond of failure.
Razor almost cut the throttle. Then, in a split-second burst, a plan worthy of T-Bone leapt into his mind. He took it. There was no time to second-guess anyway.
“Here we go again!” he warned Hard Drive not a breath from the instant the front wheel hit the angled concrete wall. The angle was perfect. The Cyclotron rocketed over the barrier and, seconds later, the outer wall of the overpass into the empty air beyond. A hot, fume-choked gust fanned Hard Drive’s back as the tractor trailer roared by behind them in a blast of exhaust. Then, cleaner air was rushing to meet them.
Eyes widening, Hard Drive began to scream anew. Razor cut him short.
Even as the front wheel flew into space, the orange-furred SWAT Kat was twisting free of the motorcycle, pulling Hard Drive after him with his left hand as he brought his right up.
At last, the ninja captain and his followers were alongside the trucks. Only, rather than mangled debris strewn over the highway, there was nothing. And, nowhere the two kats or the motorcycle could have gone.
The captain frowned. This was not good. Quickly, he hissed orders to his underlings.
Dangling by a taut cable just below the overpass, the two kats in question searched desperately for options. Well, one of them did.
“I hate you. I swear I hate you!” Hard Drive hissed, clinging to Razor’s leg with a death grip.
“Shush, you shouldn’t swear,” the SWAT Kat admonished, glancing down at him. The strain of supporting two of them was swiftly making his glovatrix arm ache. “I better not dislocate my shoulder again,” he murmured to himself.
He was starting to feel another strain, one that had nothing to do with his shoulder. Everything was happening too fast. And, now, he needed yet another fast plan. A piercing whistle drew his attention below.
A train was slowly chugging out of the freight yard below, heading under the overpass. It was an older model, several engines pushing an endless stream of boxcars. Sluggish at the start, but it would pick up speed soon enough.
Razor’s masked eyes narrowed. Here was his out. Hearing a yelp from Hard Drive, he looked up. And, the escape had come not a minute too soon. At least two masked faces were peering down at them. They’d have his cable cut soon.
The SWAT Kat glanced back down at the train. The first boxcar was almost beneath them. Twenty feet beneath them. Quickly, Razor released more cable, sending himself and Hard Drive into a sudden freefall before the line tightened again, ten feet above the train. As the jolt of the cable snapping taut jerked the twosome to a stop, the orange-furred kat felt Hard Drive’s claws dig hard into his leg, penetrating the flight suit and his fur to gouge his skin.
“You didn’t warn me that time!” he bleated.
“It was getting cliche,” Razor snapped back, his throbbing arm adding a more agitated tone to his voice than he’d exhibited yet. “Now, jump.”
“Jump?!” Hard Drive’s widened eyes met the SWAT Kat’s narrowed ones with disbelief. He looked down at the passing train before looking back at Razor. Surely he was joking. But, no, the vigilante’s glower was firm; this was no joke. Hard Drive gulped.
“NOW! Before they cut the line!” Razor yelled, feeling a twang along his cable even as he said it.
That did it. Resigned, Hard Drive gauged the distance to the train below and released Razor’s leg. He plunged toward the train with his heart in his throat as the moving cars rushed to meet him. The tan-furred kat landed first on his feet before toppling forward, catching himself with his hands inches from the metal roof of the boxcar. As the car lurched beneath him, he scrabbled wildly with his claws for a purchase. After an eternity of heart-pounding fear that he would fall to his death under the train, Hard Drive found a grip and steadied himself. Breathing heavily, he lay there, almost spread-eagled, across the curving roof.
A solid ‘thunk’ heralded Razor’s arrival. Hard Drive looked to his left to find the SWAT Kat standing from an easy all-fours crouch, to all appearances unfazed by the plunge to the moving vehicle. Well, he did have to give the SWAT Kats a few points. Even when they didn’t know what they were doing, they certainly made it look like they did.
The trailing ends of the bandanna he wore under his helmet blowing back in the wind, the slim kat was staring back toward the overpass, which was ever more quickly moving away behind them as the train picked up speed. “Company,” he muttered darkly.
Hard Drive’s head jerked up. Between the SWAT Kat’s legs, splayed for better balance on the shifting boxcar, he could see several figures making their way along the cars in the distance.
“No, no, nooooooo!” he wailed.
It was clear; they were never going to let up. There was no escape; not even with a SWAT Kat helping him. Though he’d bet good money that the SWAT Kat could get out unscathed.
Razor’s steady voice interrupted his mental tirade. “Stay down. ”
The blue-clad crimefighter was shifting into a ready stance, his feet balanced carefully on the car.
Hard Drive’s mouth worked for a second soundlessly. The vigilante was going to fight Dark Kat’s ninjas hand to hand? On top of a moving train?
‘Better him than me.’
Assuring himself that Hard Drive wasn’t going anywhere, Razor focused on his opponents. His mental targeting scope was already choosing a target as he slowly raised his right arm.
The foremost ninja was a car away from the two kats when a glob of wet cement slapped into his chest like a hammer. Completely off-guard, he went hurtling off the train to land on the grassy shoulder below the track.
A second and then a third joined him. Those threats eliminated, Razor found himself with no more targets. The remaining ninjas, weaponless without their motorcycles, debatably by choice as they preferred fighting hand to hand, had taken cover. Eyes and ears on full alert, Razor waited.
There wasn’t much to hear on top of the train. The steady rumble and chug of its wheels combined with the wind whipping past his ears drowned any but the loudest sounds. And, looking back into the wind lashed his eyes painfully as his facial fur took flight.
At least, he finally had some time to form a plan Razor mused. Not that any were offering themselves as possible solutions. Abruptly, a figure lunged over the side of the car to land in front of him. Well, so much for a plan.
Razor met the ninja with a roundhouse kick to his mid-section. The ninja was sent hurtling over the side even as Razor’s own momentum nearly took him along. He caught himself on his hands at the edge, his head hanging over the side of the car. An angry buzz hummed in his ears as his heart pounded. Stunned by the near fall, Razor’s eyes took a few seconds to focus on the flashing landscape. When they did, he found another masked face looking back into his own in surprise.
“Pleasure to meet you,” said Razor as he shoved himself backward, rolling up onto his feet and meeting the ninja with a slug to the jaw as the other kat vaulted after him.
The ninja vanished over the side, visible instants later rolling down the steep incline the train was now racing along.
Relaxing into a crouch, Razor twisted to find any new threats. A strangled cry from Hard Drive sent him spinning around.
A katana-wielding ninja had his curved blade brandished above the quivering techno-crook.
“Hey!” Razor yelled to divert the ninja’s attention as he brought his glovatrix into firing position.
A cement slug slammed into the ninja’s sword, knocking it from his hands. A second hit him in the face, sending him off the train.
Razor blinked. He hadn’t fired.
“RAZOR!!!” The crackling voice in his helmet was at a painful volume.
“T-Bone!” Razor spun to find the TurboKat swooping low over the train.
“I’ve been screaming at you for the last ten minutes!” T-Bone raged, his voice garbled.
“I was busy,” Razor informed him, smiling up at the jet. So, that was what that buzz had been. Odd; the radio-link should have been louder.
“Yeah, yeah. Get ready for your pick-up. ”
The orange-furred SWAT Kat looked up to see a cable being lowered from the TurboKat. “Here’s our lift!” he called to Hard Drive.
Nervous as he was about walking on top of the train, Hard Drive wasted no time in scrambling to his feet and grabbing onto the cable. Razor followed him, looking back in time to see more ninjas swarming toward the car, heedless of stealth now. A mirthful smile on his lips, Razor bowed to them like a performer leaving the stage and cued T-Bone.
It really was too bad those masks hid the look on their faces as the jet had shot away to the right of the train, taking himself and Hard Drive with it, Razor thought as he wormed his way into his seat. Still, the day wasn’t lost. Hard Drive was safely in the jet’s cargo bay, and he didn’t think his shoulder was dislocated. The entrance from the cargo bay to his seat was another matter. It still needed re-designing. If he ever built another jet...
“Tell me that’s a flesh wound. ”
“Huh?” Razor came out of his thoughtful stupor and blinked back at his partner’s worried face, visible in the mirror before him. “Flesh wound?” he repeated. He didn’t think he had any wounds.
“The helmet,” T-Bone returned.
“Helmet?” Razor reached up to feel his helmet. No obvious cracks in the front. Puzzled, he removed it and turned it over in his hands. His eyes widened. Embedded in the helmet’s crown, an inch from the right earhole, was a throwing star. “Well, that explains my radio trouble. It’s stuck in the receiver,” Razor commented emotionlessly.
T-Bone grunted a response, eyeing his partner curiously in the mirror.
With a forceful tug, Razor removed it to eye the vicious pointed weapon. Superbly crafted, the star was lightweight and deadly. Had he not been wearing a helmet...
“You have to admit,” Razor told T-Bone, calmly holding up the star, “They are getting better.”
His partner made no comment for several long minutes. Then, he threw his head back and laughed. So long as Razor could walk away from it. So long as Razor could walk away from it.
“No, no, and no,” T-Bone hissed.
It wasn’t an hour later and the TurboKat was lazily circling over the bay.
“Yes, yes, and yes,” Razor retorted.
“Razor, this is above and beyond our duty here. We’ve already risked our necks a couple times to save Hard Drive. We are not – I repeat, not taking him back to the hangar!”
“Well, he’s not safe with the Enforcers,” Razor pointed out calmly.
“We’re not safe with him,” T-Bone snapped back.
“We come this far and let Dark Kat have him?”
“If Dark Kat wants his hide mounted on his wall, I don’t— ”
“Ut-ut, don’t say something you don’t mean. ”
T-Bone rolled his eyes in exasperation. “And, just how long would you propose we keep him?”
Razor beamed. Success! T-Bone was wearing down. “Until Callie can arrange something better,” he stated in his most polite voice.
T-Bone moaned softly. But, Razor was right... again. And, Callie, of all people, would understand the need to quickly find somewhere else for Hard Drive. Yes, it was doable. Unpleasant, risky, probably stupid, but doable.
“Alright,” he hissed between his teeth at last, eyeing Razor in the mirror. Was a smirk like that really worth this?
Hours later, long after the sun had set, an exhausted Jake found himself starting from a deep sleep as he felt a sudden rush of air. Mumbling, “Wha—?!” he sat bolt upright in his bed, his body tensing for an attack.
Instead, Chance – or rather, T-Bone as the big tabby was still in his flight suit – appeared through his blurred vision. The big kat stood at the end of the bed, arms crossed. Jake noted that his sheets were piled behind T-Bone’s feet.
“You wanted ta’ protect ‘im, you get the graveyard shift,” T-Bone growled, his mouth turned up in a wide grin.
Jake sighed and fell back onto his pillow.
“Now, I know why you agreed to first watch so quickly!” he moaned.
“Git yer tail outta that bed, soldier,” T-Bone barked in a perfect imitation of an Enforcer officer both remembered from the training camp.
“No! No! The flashbacks!” Jake wailed even as his partner grabbed him by the scruff and hauled him out of bed.
Jake quickly fought free and, resigned, went in search of his flight suit.
The tan-furred tomkat’s eyes fluttered as his dazed brain emerged into consciousness. It was a highly over-rated state he decided quickly as he became aware of a pounding in his temples. As his vision focused, he found himself in a dimly lit concrete and steel room. A quick glance identified his resting place as a slightly musty cot.
“Where...?” Hard Drive breathed.
He tensed abruptly as he heard someone approaching. The steady click of bare claws on concrete allowed him to follow the sound with ease. Hard Drive shuddered. Was he with Dark Kat now? No, no. It was the SWAT Kats who’d taken him. And, drugged him too when they took him out of the jet, curse them.
“So, you’re up. ”
Hard Drive jerked his head toward the voice. The larger SWAT Kat, the striped one, stood behind him, a scowl on his round face.
“Where are we?” Hard Drive demanded.
“Our place. We have a jet. It’s a hangar,” the big kat snapped, glaring at him.
Hard Drive growled at the SWAT Kat’s response. Not that he’d expected more in the way of location. A more pressing need suddenly snapped into his mind.
“Do I get to go to the litterbox?” he snarled after several minutes of tense silence.
The techno-crook could almost see the big tabby’s eyes roll through his mask.
“This can’t go on. If I have to escort him to the litterbox One. More. Time—!”Chance punctuated the statement by smacking his wrench against the nearest workbench.
“I know,” Jake returned, appearing as he slipped his crawler out from under the red car on which he was working. “Callie’s trying as hard as she can.”
“I don’t like having him here. He might find something he isn’t supposed to,” Chance growled, searching the workbench he’d been abusing for a different size wrench. He found it at length and brandished it at Jake to emphasize his words. “He’s not much of a fighter, but he’s clever. That suit a’ his is proof enough of that. ”
“Agreed, but what other option do we have?” Jake demanded. He pulled an already greasy rag from his back pocket and wiped his hands on it as he looked up at his friend questioningly.
“Lemme see,” Chance started, leaning against the workbench. “Dropping him in the bay sounds good. And, burying him in a vault and losing the combination is tempting. Oh, and then there’s—”
“Thank you, but no,” Jake cut him off. “We need a real solution.”
“Talk to Callie. I’m fresh out of those.”
Jake frowned; so was he.
Hard Drive paced the tiny room he’d been given, fidgeting. Time for one of the vigilantes to come and feed him. If they were on schedule. But, he hadn’t heard the jet go roaring out, so he assumed they were around. Tired of pacing, he slumped onto his cot.
“Hurry up,” he growled softly through his teeth.
The lanky kat was eager to return to his project. What the SWAT Kats normally used this room they’d assigned to him for was beyond his comprehension. Most of the clutter had been shoved into a rear corner, but it seemed to be parts storage. The pieces of aircraft guidance systems, AMRAAM launch pads, and other parts less identifiable but likely salvaged from jets made sense. It was the pieces of household appliances that puzzled him – blades from blenders, cathode ray tubes from televisions, and pieces of long defunct transistor radios.
Still, he didn’t care. It was the pieces of electronics that would get him out. It hadn’t taken long. He had had days of nothing to do. (Though the SWAT Kats had provided a tiny TV and comic books. Who on earth read “Kat Kommandos” anyway?) It had been ample time to make his own modifications to the communications device the SWAT Kats’ had given him. Not that it was easy. The SWAT Kats weren’t stupid; they hadn’t left anything especially useful in the room. Even the blender blades were dulled, and how could he use one before they could use those arm-mounted missile launchers of theirs anyway? Besides, hand to hand combat was not his strong point.
The device he’d cobbled together, however, was. Cruder and bulkier than the original model, it wouldn’t escape detection as easily, but it would let him contact the outside world.
At last, the perky little sadist who balanced on trains came in with a tuna sandwich. After the usual small talk, to which Hard Drive responded only in grunts, he was gone, leaving the food.
Tearing a bite from the sandwich, Hard Drive checked the room for any monitoring devices a final time. Nothing new presented itself. Well, no better time. The tan-furred kat produced the communicator and thumbed its activation button. Modifying it from a radio receiver to a cell phone had been the real trick. And, one that might not have worked.
He waited impatiently, eyes darting as he expected a SWAT Kat to come storming in any instant. Would they intercept the signal? Had his cheap wiring job been good enough to even send a signal?
The first ring answered his question. The voice after the second was heavenly.
“Card?” Hard Drive’s voice was a rasping whisper.
“Driver! I’ve been huntin’ you for days! I mean, that offer you left on the machine...” The voice on the other end grew deeper. “You know I couldn’t let that one go by.”
“I’m well aware, Card.” Hard Drive cast the door a furtive glance before continuing hurriedly. “Look, the SWAT Kats have me at the moment, and I can’t talk long. I don't have a clue where I am, but I think it’s underground.”
“Well, I can trace your—” Card started.
“Don’t bother,” Hard Drive hissed. I’m piggybacking on someone’s service. You could trace it to the tower and from there to whoever’s paying this bill for me, but that’s all you’ll get. They’re hoping the Deputy Mayor’s found me a temporary spot in Lake Faroe Minimum Security. What can you do about that?”
“I have some favors owed in Lake Faroe,” Card purred. “Should be a snap. So, I’ll see you then?”
Hard Drive chuckled darkly. At last. “Of course. And, I know you’ll be there bad as you want the secret.”
“Oh, you can bet your life I’ll be there,” Card returned, his voice a throaty laugh.
“I am, Card. I am. ”
Seventy feet from Hard Drive’s room, another call was underway.
“That’s great, Miss Briggs,” Jake told Callie, giving the approaching Chance a thumbs up to assure him this wasn’t an emergency call.
On the other end, Callie laughed lightly. “I thought you guys would be pleased.”
“With what?” Chance asked Jake, leaning over to whisper in his ear.
“She’s got Hard Drive a spot in Lake Faroe,” Jake returned.
Chance grinned from one side of his round face to the other. “We’re elated, Miss Briggs,” he beamed.
Two weeks later found Hard Drive clambering from the rancid stench of a mound of laundry. His fur was plastered to his face with sweat after the scorching ride across the desert in the un-air conditioned back of the laundry truck. Still, he was smiling as Card met him at the door.
“Knew you’d come through for me!” He leapt lightly to the sun-baked earth of the deserted roadside. There was a spring in the lanky tomkat’s step. He was free. Free of jail, but, most importantly, free of Dark Kat.
“Of course,” Card assured, motioning to his car as he stepped up to the laundry truck’s cab. Hard Drive got in the car as Card purred to the driver. “I transferred the money to your account this morning. No one will figure out where I “borrowed” it from.”
The driver nodded. “Pleasure doing business with you.” He pulled away in a cloud of dust as Card slid into the car with Hard Drive.
“Where to?” the dark-furred Card asked, looking at his old partner with a glint in his eye.
“As far as you’ll take me, then the first airport after wherever you won’t,” Hard Drive returned, suddenly nervous again and fidgeting with his seat belt.
“You’re that spooked?”
“I’m never coming back to the west coast. Gonna hole up somewhere in the east and go back to the old ATM business. It’s smalltime, but it’s a good living.”
Card just nodded.
They drove for some minutes in silence before Card finally commented, “So, about that suit...”
“Everything you want to know,” Hard Drive agreed quickly. “How it works, how I made it work, everything. I talk, you drive.”
“Fine.” Card’s eyes were gleaming. “So, talk. Cuz you left me in a lurch there. One night it was as useless as ever, I leave to get some sleep, and by morning you’re gone.” He glanced over at Hard Drive, still smiling, apparently over his earlier anger. At least, now that he was finally getting the secret of the surge coat he was over it. “Next thing I know you and that suit are getting TV spots.”
“It was pure luck,” Hard Drive admitted, relaxing again.
“But, you can do it again?”
“As many times as I’ve rebuilt that thing, I can do it in my sleep, Card.”
“Then, tell me.”
And, Hard Drive did.
“Hard Drive Escapes Lake Faroe Minimum Security. CRUD!!!!” Chance slammed the paper down on the kitchen table, a black scowl marring his face. “We run in circles to protect that clown and he—!”
“Still thinks he needs to run,” Jake finished for him, sipping his hot coffee carefully. “He’s not out to wreak havoc, Chance. You saw the fear in his eyes. He’s running scared.”
Chance sighed and nodded a mute agreement, letting it go. Maybe Jake was right.
Jake, however, was frowning. “And, you know,” he began, “It’s not Hard Drive that worries me. It’s Dark Kat.”
“What do you mean?” Chance had thought no more of Dark Kat since saving Hard Drive the last time.
“We saved Hard Drive, and he backed off. Not a peep from him since. After all that. The MacroDragon wasn’t the only distraction he gave us that day. Saving Hard Drive was the distraction.”
“Then, what did he really want?” Chance’s brows knit.
“I don’t know. But, you can bet we’re gonna find out.”
Chance buried his head in his hands. “That’s it. I’m goin’ back ta’ bed.”
Chance peeked out between two large fingers. “Who says I can’t?”
“Callie. She’s pulling in the drive now.”
“On second thought, it’s a pretty day.”